Santa Cruz: Mission Hill of Yesteryear

Mission street as it was circa 1880 between the Lower and Upper Plazas. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.
Mission street, between the Upper and Lower Plazas, as it was circa 1880. Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

Before the automobile age everyone—rich and poor—walked to work, to school, to church, to the movie house. The little town of Santa Cruz grew along a river, and the first fine homes of its shopkeepers and bankers and lawyers were built on the hills overlooking the river valley.

Mission Hill is one such hill and to this day is a neighborhood at the heart of Santa Cruz. It used to have quite a different feel however. The schools, businesses and hotels were used by and relied upon by people who lived there. People routinely walked back and forth between the Upper Plaza – the area of the old Mission Santa Cruz on the top of the hill where the homes and schools were; to the Lower Plaza – the bottom of the hill by the river where the businesses were.

The historic photo of Mission Street is an example of how different Mission Hill was in the late 1800s. It is lined with a multitude of businesses. The Santa Cruz public school proudly presides over the town. In the foreground is the St. Charles hotel, and at the end of the block is the Temperance Hall. On the left is a blacksmith shop. Although the roads are dirty and rutted, the children stand on wide clean sidewalks.

In the last hundred years, the width of Mission Street has doubled, and the row of shops and hotels up the hill are long gone. Few people live, work and shop all within Mission Hill and Mission Street is primarily a corridor for car traffic. Gone also is the grand school building, replaced by an office building that was built for the school district. The retaining wall, and the steps that led to the school remain.

Mission Street today.
Mission Street today.

Many thanks to the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History for use of the historical photo.

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of the Mission Hill Staircase Tour made possible by local history researcher Linda Rosewood. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.


Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Apple App Store
Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Google Play Store
  1. Sources Used

    • Personal communication with Linda Rosewood, Historian, Santa Cruz County, August 2015.

About The Author

Linda Rosewood

Linda Rosewood loves to research Santa Cruz history and has lived in downtown Santa Cruz for over 30 years. She loves to walk everywhere; that way she can find the next interesting local landmark to research. She posts her discoveries at her blog, History Right Here.

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  1. Lois Jennings

    My parents, John and Pauline Thomas bought the MacPherson house, on Mission St, built around 1908, and moved it to 316 Escalona, where it still stands today. It is a lovely home.


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